Every season brings forth its own unique set of horse care challenges, and winter is no different. With a little planning and a few adjustments, your horse can stay comfortable all winter long. Below, we dispel a few common myths about wintering horses, and give you the five most important things you can do to increase your horse’s comfort during the cold season.
During the winter months, your horse will expend more energy to maintain their critical body temperature. With an increased energy expenditure comes an increased caloric need. According to The Horse, fiber digestion is what helps your horse stay warm, and during especially cold bouts of weather, you may need to feed even additional hay meals.
With the adjustment of feed amounts, you will want to pay close attention to your horse’s body weight. Longer winter coats can make it difficult to notice weight fluctuations. If you choose to blanket your horses, it can be even more challenging to keep a pulse on your horse’s weight. You want to make sure that your horse doesn’t lose weight during the cold season. Likewise, you don’t want to see a lot of weight gain either. If you are noticing weight fluctuations, it’s time to adjust the amount of forage you are feeding.
A note on supplements: Some people choose to supplement their horses with ground flax for added fiber and healthy Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Hope Botanicals offers Happy Horse Bites, a hemp treat that contains fiber, phytonutrients, chlorophyll, cannabinoids, terpenes, B1 and healthy fats. B1 is known for its calming properties and has also been shown to support gastric health.
Always Offer Water
This advice may sound a little opposite of what you would think. You might think that wetter winter conditions would take care of this need, but that’s not true.
Don’t horses need more water in the summer months, to replenish what they sweat in the heat? That would make sense, however, it has more to do with what they are eating. In the spring and summer, there is a lot of moisture to be found in what they eat out in the pasture. In the winter, as less of this is available and you increase their hay intake, they need the additional liquid to maintain digestion.
The key is to make sure that their water supply doesn’t freeze. The University of Minnesota Extension service suggests that you may need to heat the water to between 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Provide Shelter from the Worst Elements
Providing shelter from the elements is critical – during times of heavy wind, rain, or worse, having a shelter can increase your horse’s cold tolerance. Horses are naturally outdoor animals, and they have what it takes to adapt to the temperature and elements, however, providing shelter improves their ability to adapt to these extreme conditions.
A shelter doesn’t have to be a full, heated barn. It could simply be a lean-to, or structure that will block wind and precipitation.
Should You Blanket Your Horse?
Horses are created with the ability to regulate their body temperature. Their bodies know when it is time to grow out a longer, thicker coat, and when it is time to shed it. That said, it isn’t bad or wrong to blanket your horse – the “right” answer here tends to be personal preference. However, if you choose to blanket your horse, from time to time you should check them for sores, poor fit, and weight loss.
Pay Extra Attention to Foot Health
“No hoof, no horse” is a popular saying for good reason. Regardless of the season, foot care is always important, but winter brings some unique problems like mud and ice. You don’t want ice to build up in hooves, because it can cause them to walk in a way that is not natural to them, stressing the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the lower leg. Daily hoof care will keep these problems at bay.
You should also stay aware of any ice build up in areas where it is common for your horses to walk or congregate. Ice can cause slipping and injury if it is not tended to.
With a proactive approach, your horse will emerge from winter happy, healthy and ready for whatever spring and summer adventures you have planned!